One dreary Leningrad day in the winter of 1976, I went home to my room in the dormitory on Shevchenko and found a strange young man sitting on my bed. Brave soul, I thought. Or foolhardy? In those years Russians were not keen to advertise their friendship with foreigners. But Senya Roginskii didn’t give a hoot. In the many years of our deep friendship I watched him violate all the rules of basic survival in the USSR. Memorial, the jewel in Senya’s crown, was preceded by years of “samizdat.” Using a library card he got for allegedly researching Plekhanov, he was combing the archives for the evidence of Soviet chicanery, especially the kind that sent his father into the Camps and into prison where he died. That very library card was the “violation” which the Soviet government used to send Senya as well to the Gulag for 4 years.
Senya held a regular Friday night “salon.” If I close my eyes I can see myself getting off the metro at Park Pobeda, and walking through the park to his apartment on Ulitsa Gagarina where the most interesting people in Leningrad gathered—all, of course, dissidents. Some of them, like Senya, subsequently became leading activists in the post-Soviet civil/human rights movement, connected in various ways to Memorial. How lucky I was to have Senya as my guide through the intricacies of Soviet life as well as a faithful and generous friend. How lucky Russia is to have had such an avatar of courage, intelligence and integrity: a guiding light through Soviet and post-Soviet times. Russia is poorer for his death, as are all the friends he leaves behind. Слава тебе, Сеня!
Creator: Stephan Röhl. This image is licensed under Creative Commons License.